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The psychological processes associated with HIV infection in long-term relationships differ from those operative in casual sexual encounters, and relatively little research has considered the aspects of personality applicable in the ongoing heterosexual relationships in which women are at greatest risk. Sensitivity to rejection has been linked with efforts to prevent rejection at a cost to the self and, therefore, may be relevant to the health risks that many women incur in relationships. We examined the association of rejection sensitivity with women's sexual risk behavior in a sample of women at heightened risk for HIV exposure. Women in long-term heterosexual relationships (N = 159) were recruited for study participation in the hospital emergency room serving a low-income neighborhood in New York City, in 2001-2003. Rejection sensitivity and known HIV risk factors were assessed using verbally administered questionnaires. Rejection sensitivity was associated with lower perceived relationship power and, in turn, more frequent unprotected sex with a partner perceived to be at risk for HIV. These results held when controlling for other HIV risk factors including partner violence, economic dependence, and substance use. Understanding the association of rejection concerns with lower perceived personal power in relationships may be important for HIV prevention.



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